BFKN is proud to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, and we are pleased to recognize the contributions and influence of AAPI individuals to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. Throughout the month of May, we will be spotlighting significant legal cases and developments related to the AAPI community and how those developments have shaped American history. This week we highlight citizenship, in particular the 1898 Supreme Court Case U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, which was an important civil rights case that interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment’s assertion that "all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the U.S. and of the State wherein they reside."

Citizenship - U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (1898)

Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco, California in 1873 to parents who were both Chinese immigrants. Although Wong Kim Ark lived in California throughout his childhood, his parents returned to China. They were among the thousands of Chinese immigrants who immigrated to the U.S. from Guangdong province in southern China, seeking economic opportunities for themselves and their families, but were denied a legal pathway to U.S. citizenship.

Due to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which barred both entry of new Chinese immigrants to the U.S. and also naturalization to Chinese immigrants already present in the U.S., Wong Kim Ark’s parents were barred from becoming naturalized citizens and never returned to the U.S. In 1894, when Wong Kim Ark was 21 years old, he traveled to China to visit his parents and, in 1895, attempted to re-enter the U.S. U.S. customs officials denied his entry, however, claiming that he was not a U.S. citizen due to his Chinese heritage and that he was barred from entering the U.S. due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. 

Far from simply accepting his deportation, Wong sued the federal government and on March 28, 1898, his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld his birthright citizenship. The Court issued its landmark decision, holding that children born in the U.S., even to parents not eligible to become citizens, were nonetheless citizens themselves under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

To learn more about Wong Kim Ark and other U.S. Supreme Court cases involving the fight for AAPI civil rights, click here.

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